Eagles Film Room: What does the future hold for Wendell Smallwood?


After a successful rookie campaign was cut short due to injury, West Virginia product Wendell Smallwood seemed primed to bounce back. But for whatever reason, despite having two games as the featured back, that never happened. Why? Let’s take a look at the tape.

Smallwood was drafted in the fifth round of last year’s NFL Draft and would go on to record 312 yards and a touchdown on 77 carries, before suffering an injury that would cut his rookie season short. A promising offseason and training camp saw Smallwood fueled by the competition brought to the table by Corey Clement, adding a sense or urgency and aggression into his game. He began meeting tackles head on as opposed to trying to dance around them and all of a sudden, Smallwood began to look like the back the Eagles hoped he would become.

The year started strongly enough for Wendell Smallwood. Frank Reich stated to the media that he believed the sophomore running back could become a ‘three-down’ runner for the Eagles.

“I think Wendell is a true, three-down back.” Reich told the media after the first joint practice with Miami. “When we first drafted him, I kind of looked at him as more like a first- and second- down back. I thought he would be okay on third down, but really he’s turned out to be better on third down than I thought. So really I think he is a very versatile back who knows protections very well, who runs good routes, who catches the ball well. And then I think he’s a slashing runner on first- and second- down, so we like that combination. He’s done very well. He works very hard at it. Love him mentally, and really glad he’s in the mix.”

But as injuries continued to haunt him along with inconsistencies, the opportunities passed Smallwood by. There were two notable clashes against the Chargers and Giants where Smallwood was the featured running back and in both contests there simply wasn’t enough to carve out a bigger role. The rise of Corey Clement headlined the backfield and Doug Pederson began to lean on the undrafted free agent more and more as games ground down to a close.

Then came the Jay Ajayi trade. At that point, Clement had touched the ball close to 50 times during the season, leaving him plenty of time to make his mark. But instead his role seemed to completely disappear while the former Miami Dolphin snatched the spotlight and shuffled the pecking order.

On the eve of free agency, Smallwood sits in a strange position. It’s unlikely that LeGarrette Blount will return and Kenjon Barner will rarely see the same field time that Smallwood has so far, so what gives? Smallwood will likely be the change-of-pace back once again in 2018 in what may be his final bid to show the Eagles what he’s made of.

As shown in the video, there simply wasn’t enough of a jump from what we saw in his rookie year (see article below written at the end of last season)…

Eagles Film Room: What does the future hold for RB Wendell Smallwood?

…to what we saw on tape in 2017. This hampered his place on the depth chart because he didn’t do anything exceptionally well. While Clement and Ajayi both have key strengths, Smallwood simply does a little bit of everything, without the fancy finish. It remains to be seen whether or not there’s a place in Pederson’s backfield for the 5’10 back who amassed just 174 yards and a touchdown in his sophomore campaign.